In 2011, Kilo Company uncovered — one way or another — about 300 IEDs. Some men patrolled with tourniquets cinched to the outside of their legs, so that they could quickly stop the bleeding if the legs were blown off. Eighteen months later, Bravo Company had found 60 IEDs in the Green Zone. Like the other companies, Bravo had lost personnel, and it was down to 110 men. Ten had been wounded; some had lost limbs. The grunts of Bravo thought they had had it “easier” than Kilo Company, because they had lost “only” 10 percent of their comrades. They felt safe enough to carry their four tourniquets in their pockets instead of wrapped around their legs.
Day after day, year after year, one rifle company after another has slogged through the fields to wrest physical control from the Taliban. It’s not just the grinding courage, walking through minefields one hundred times. Over the course of his deployment, the average grunt — Marine or Army — carries that 95-pound pack strapped to his upper torso for more than 500 miles. The heavy armor protects him today but takes a structural toll 20 years later. He faces certain pain in middle age. “If we don’t find a breakthrough in treating degenerative arthritis,” Roy Aaron, a leading orthopedic surgeon at Brown University, has said, “the effects on these young men will be severe.” We haven’t thought about that.